In the mid-1960s, Jimi Hendrix honed his craft as a singer and guitarist in Greenwich Village clubs like the Gaslight Café, Trude Heller’s, and Café au Go Go. After a 1966 performance at the Café Wha?, Hendrix was persuaded to go to London and form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He returned to New York a superstar. Hendrix moved to West 12th Street in 1969 and in 1970 built his most enduring Village legacy, Electric Lady Studios.
The recording studio was among the vibrant mix of clubs, clothing stores, record shops and eateries that drew people to 8th Street night and day. Now Storm Ritter, whose eclectic shop on the block features fashions based on her original art, wants to bring the excitement of those days back to the Village. Ritter has started a grassroots effort to co-name 8th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues Jimi Hendrix Way.
“I opened my store up about a year and a half ago and having such a love for the history of 8th Street, Greenwich Village, that Downtown music vibe, I was looking for a lot of community,” says Ritter. “I connected with the Village Alliance, I connected with other merchants and really built a fantastic connection working with these people.
“Me and my friend who lives down the street chitchatted about how much we loved Jimi Hendrix, how much we loved the idea of bringing that legacy back to the street. We were like, let’s co-name it, let’s fuckin’ do it.”
Ritter contacted Electric Lady management, who agreed to work with her on the project. Ritter started a petition and designed a Jimi Hendrix Way t-shirt, which she sells at the store. “I’m just trying to make it fun, just add something to increase tourism. Foot traffic would increase, people would come to take a photo on Jimi Hendrix Way. Go see Electric Lady Studios. It all makes sense for bringing more people back to the street.
“It’s truly incredible how many people come in to tell a story: Oh, I knew Hendrix or I played with Hendrix or I have his watercolors. It’s essentially just saying hey, there’s a legacy to this street, this is what happened here. So remember it.”
John Storyk remembers it. Storyk designed Electric Lady Studios on the site that had been the Generation Club. Hendrix often showed up to jam at the Generation after hours. When the club closed, Hendrix envisioned creating another music venue there. Producer Eddie Kramer helped convince Hendrix to make the space a recording studio. Hendrix recorded there for only four weeks before his untimely death in September 1970.
“I was the architect for that studio at the age of 22, 23,” says Storyk. “Barely knew what I was doing.
“The studio opens. During that time I probably met Jimi in person six times maybe. He would come to the site now and then, always during the day. I would either meet him at his manager’s office on 37th Street or the studio itself once we started building it.”
In the 1960s, the block featured the Eighth Street Bookshop, a hangout for struggling writers and poets; Bon Soir, a cabaret where Barbra Streisand launched her career; and the Eighth Wonder, a go-go club where Hendrix played as a member of Curtis Knight & the Squires.
“It was the Village!” recalls Storyk. “I loved the Village. That’s where the artists were. That’s where the cool shops were. That’s where the interesting stuff was. Jimi was a pioneer because Jimi and his team – Michael Jeffrey, his manager, Eddie Kramer, his producer – they said let’s put a studio south of 42nd Street.
“There were no recording studios south of 42nd Street. It was unheard of to have a major recording studio on 8th Street. But for me, I’d never been in a recording studio so the whole thing seemed very natural to me because I lived in the Village.”
One thing that’s not coming back is the studio’s curved-brick façade that was designed by Storyk. The exterior wall was demolished and replaced with a flat front and glass windows in 1997. “That was a huge mistake,” says Storyk. “Jimi never bought the building. And to this day Electric Lady Studios does not own the building.
“There was a desperate try to get it landmarked, which I did participate in. I had drawings and stuff and they missed by a few weeks, they just couldn’t get it done. That was too bad. That really should not have happened, not because I designed it but because that was just the heart and soul of that little section of the street there.”
By the early 1980s, the clubs and head shops that attracted young people had mostly disappeared. Peace and love gave way to an increase in crime and empty storefronts. Today, upscale restaurants and shops have moved in. Through it all, Storyk’s affection for the Village is unwavering.
“I never left that area of New York ever in my life. To this day, that’s where I stay. The buildings are the same; the stores are a little different, they’ve gone through a lot of changes. But if you squint, it hasn’t changed. Just the storefronts have changed; everything else is the same. Every now and then there’s a new glass tower that they sneak in there for the rich and famous but I try to pretend not to look at those. And that’s why I love the Village.”
Ritter represents the next generation of Village residents who hope to preserve what’s special about the neighborhood. “We’re going very grassroots and creating a movement, creating this idea of connecting these businesses, which is working,” she says. “Now these businesses are reaching out to me.
“From here we’re going to continue working for maybe a music festival or getting flags on lampposts outside with Hendrix information, seeing what we can do to increase that legacy. It’s fun.
“Most of my clients are residents who live on this street. They’re people that have been here forever. They say thank God there’s some fun back on this street.”
Interactive Map: Jimi Hendrix in New York City